Verlander vs. The Yankees: it hardly seems fair

64 Comments

The Tigers are up 2-0 in the ALCS. They are back home in Detroit. The Yankees offense is sending scribes to the thesaurus to find new words to describe their anemic offense ( feeble, infirm, pallid, sickly, wan, impotent, debilitated, decrepit, enervated, faint, flaccid, forceless, frail, impuissant).  And, oh yeah, Justin Verlander is on the mound for the Tigers.

Should we even bother playing this game?

OK, I oversell the point, but you do hear what I’m saying, yes?  Things look bleak for the Yankees and they could not be set up any more favorably for the Tigers who, after Verlander pitches, get two more games at home, with the next one started by Max Scherzer. Not that it much matters who the Tigers put out on the mound because, with the exception of mostly-demoted closer Jose Valverde, no Detroit pitcher has allowed an earned run since Game 3 of the division series against Oakland.

The Yankees situation, on the other hand, is dire. Derek Jeter is out for the year after breaking an ankle in Game 1. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are a combined 12 for 107 in seven postseason games, and the world is facing a shortage of the letter K thanks to so many of them being used to fill out Yankees scorecards.

Is there any hope for New York?

Sure there is. This is baseball, and if we have learned anything so far this postseason, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as momentum. If there was, Robinson Cano would still be hitting like he did at the end of the regular season and New York would have won Game 1 of this series after mounting that four-run comeback in the ninth inning against Jose Valverde on Saturday.  So where is the hope? How about here:

  • The Yankees aren’t afraid of Verlander: The Yankees faced Justin Verlander three times in 2012 and they won two of those games, notching 25 hits in 20 and a third innings. Granted, the Yankees had help from the Tigers defense in a couple of those outings — of the 12 runs Verlander surrendered to New York, five were unearned — but simply being able to make that kind of contact off Verlander shows that the Yankees are not going to simply lie down for the Tigers ace;
  • The Tigers bullpen is still a hot mess. We saw Jose Valverde melt down in Game 1, which has likely forced him out of closing situations, but Jim Leyland says he’ll still use Papa Grande at some point and that’s good news for the Yankees.  The Tigers used Phil Coke for a two inning save in Game 2, and other late inning options include Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque. Any of those guys are capable of blowing a lead at any moment.
  • The Yankees bats can’t stay cold forever. Slumps happen, but they eventually end. Maybe the Yankees’ bats won’t wake up until they get to Tampa next February, but with the hitting talent New York possesses, it is not hard to envision them simply snapping out of their current funk and putting up ten runs at some point. This isn’t some scared, overmatched first time playoff team here. This is the New York Freakin’ Yankees.

Of course, hope is an uncertain thing. Justin Verlander in a big game is far less uncertain.  The smart money — if you’re dumb enough to bet on baseball anyway — has to be on Detroit tonight.  With their ace behind the wheel and the Yankees hitters looking like roadkill lately, the Tigers appear to be on the road to the World Series.

Meanwhile, on the cold, cold Hot Stove . . .

Getty Images
10 Comments

It’s Hot Stove Season baby! You know what that means! Yep: time to watch some teams sign a few relievers to minor league deals and then wait everyone out until February while talking about the need to maintain financial flexibility! FEEL THE BURN.

In more specific news:

We’ve talked a lot about Betts this winter already, and that seems like madness. Bryant’s career with the Cubs began with business-side acrimony, it’s still simmering, and there is no sense that either side is amenable to a long-term deal before he hits free agency. The Indians have been signaling for some time that they have no interest in keeping Lindor long term.

It’s quite the thing when three teams who are supposed to be contending are, instead, looking to deal recent MVP award winners and candidates who are 27 and 26 years old, but these are the times in which we are living.

  • Joe Sheehan wrote an excellent column for Baseball America last week analyzing the attendance drop MLB experienced in 2019. Which is just the latest in a series of attendance drops. As Joe notes there is a very, very strong connection between teams (a) signaling to fans during the offseason that they are not interested in signing or retaining players or otherwise being competitive; and (b) teams suffering attendance losses.

As I wrote last offseason, there is an increasing disconnect between attendance and other proxies of broad fan interest and revenue. Which is to say that, as long as teams continue to get fat on long-term TV deals, side businesses like real estate development, and soaking a smaller and wealthier segment of the fan base with higher and higher prices, they really have no reason to care if several thousand common or casual fans become alienated by their teams’ lack of desire to compete.

Sullivan doesn’t offer ideas about how that can happen, but over the past couple of seasons we’ve seen a number of proposals, some broad, some specific, about how MLB can turn its free agency/trading period into frantic, 1-3 day scrambles-to-sign like we see in both the NBA and NFL. I’m sympathetic to that desire — it’s exciting! — but any attempt to do that in Major League Baseball, at least as things are currently set up, would be a disaster for the players.

In the NBA and NFL you have salary caps and floors and, in the NBA, you have max contracts. As a result, teams both have a set amount of money to spend and an incentive to spend that money. We can quibble with whether those incentives are the best ones or if they benefit the players as much as other systems might, but there’s at least something inherent in their systems which inspires teams to sign free agents.

In Major League Baseball, there is no such incentive. May teams want to keep payrolls as low as possible under the guise of rebuilding or tanking and there is no effective mechanism to keep them from doing so. Even nominal contenders — see the Cubs, Indians and Red sox in item 1 above — spend more time thinking about how to cut payroll rather than add talent. This is bolstered by the stuff in item 2 above in which attendance and even winning has less of an impact on the bottom line than it ever has.

So, why scramble to sign players by a set deadline? Under most of the scenarios I see floated — like the laughably horrible one MLB reportedly suggested to the MLBPA — teams would just wait out free agents until deadline day, give them crappy take-it-or-leave-it offers and then leave them all scrambling to sign one-year deals or to sit the season out.

For such a thing to happen — or for teams to want to keep their bright young stars or for the league to want to maintain fan interest and keep attendance from continuing to slide — there must be incentives put in place to make them want to sign and retain players. To make them want to win. To make them want to excite the fan base.

At present, such incentives are not there. And, as such, we are faced with yet another winter with a cold, cold stove.